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To one red horror like a lake of blood.

XXVI.

And now, he enters, with that lurid tide,

Where time-long corals shape a mighty hall ;

Three curtain'd arches on the dexter side.
And on the floors a ruby pedestal.

On which with marble lips, that life-like smiled,

Stood the fair Statue of a crowned Child :



12 KING ARTHUR.

XXVII.

It smiled, and yet its crown was wreathed of thorns^
And round its limbs coil'd foul the viper's brood ;

Near to that Child a rough crag, deluge-torn,

Jagg'd, with sharp shadow abrupt, the luminous flood ;

And a huge Vulture from the summit, there,

"VVatch'd, with dull hunger in its glassy stare.

XXVIII.

Below the Vulture, in the rock ensheathed,

Shone out the hilt-beam of the diamond glaive ;

And all the hall one hue of crimson wreathed,
And all the galleries vista'd thro' the wave ;

As flush'd the coral fathom-deep below,

Lit into glory from the ruby's glow,

XXIX*

And on three thrones there sate three giant forms,
Rigid the first, as Death ; — with lightless eyes.

And brows as hush'd as deserts, w hen the storms
Lock the tornado in the Nubian skies ; —

Dead on dead knees the large hands nerveless rest,

And dead the front droops heavy on the breast.

XXX.

The second shape, with bright and kindling eye,
And aspect haughty with triumphant life.

Like a young Titan reared its crest on high,

Crown'd as for sway and harness'd as for strife ;

But o'er one half his image there was cast,

A shadow from the throne where sate the last.



BOOK YII. 13

XXXI.

And this, the third and Last, seem'd in that sleep
Which neighbours waking in a summer s dawn,

When dreams, reLaxing, scarce their captive keep :
Half o'er his face a veil transparent drawn,

Stirr'd with quick sighs unquiet and disturb'd.

Which told the impatient soul the slumber curb'd.

XXXII.

Thrill'd, but undaunted, on the Adventurer strode,
Then spoke the youthful Genius with the crown

And armour : " Hail to our august abode !
Guardless we greet the seeker of Renown.

In our least terror cravens Death behold.

But vainly frown our direst for the bold."

xxxiri.
'^ And who are ye ?" the wondering King replied,

" On whose large aspects reigns the awe sublime
Of fabled judges, that o'er souls preside

In Rhadamanthian Halls ?" The Lords of Time,
Answered the Giant, " And our realms are three.
The What has been", what is, and what shall be !

XX XIV.

^^ But while we speak my brother's shadow creeps

Over the life blood that it freezes fast ;
Haste, while the king that shall discrown me sleeps.

Nor lose the Present — lo, how dead the Past !
Accept the trials, Prince beloved by Heaven,
To the deep heart — -(that nobler reason), given.

VOL. II. 2



14 KING ARTHUR.

XXXV.

" Thou hast rejected m the Cuthites' halls

The fruits that flush Ambition's dazzling tree,

The Conqueror's lust of blood-stained coronals ; —
Again thine ordeal in thy judgment be !

Nor here shall empire need the arm of crime —

But Fate achieve the lot^ thou ask'st from Time.

XXXVT.

'' Behold the three-fold Future at thy choice,

Choose right, and win from Fame the master spell."

Then the concealing veils, as ceased the voice.
From the three arches with a clangor fell,

And clear as scenes with Thespian wonders rife

Gave to his view the Lemur-shapes of life.

XXXVII.

Lo the fair stream amidst that pleasant vale.
Wherein his youth held careless holiday ;

The stream is blithe with many a silken sail,
The vale with many a proud pavilion gay.

And in the centre of the rosy ring,

Propp'd on his arm, reclines himself, the King.

XXXVIII.

AII5 all the same as when his golden prime

Lay in the lap of life's soft Arcady ;
When the light love beheld no foe but Time,

When but from Pleasure heaved the prophet sigh.
And Luxury's prayer was as 'a Summer day,
Mid blooms a.nd sweets to wear the hours away.'



BOOK yii. 15

XXXIX.

" Behold," the Genius said, " is that thy choice
As once it was ?" " Nay, I have wept since then,"

Answered the mortal with a mournful voice,
" When the dews fall, the stars arise for men !"

So turn'd he to the second arch to see

The imperial peace of tranquil majesty ; —

XL.

The kingly throne, himself the dazzling king ;

Bright arms, and jewelled vests, and purple stoles ;
While silver winds, from many a music-string,

Rippled the wave of glittering banderolls :
From mitred priests and ermined barons, clear
Came the loud praise which monarchs love to hear ! ?'

XLI.

" Doth this content thee ?" " Ay," the Prince replied,
And towered erect, with empire on his brow ;

"Ay, here at once a Monarch may decide,
Be but the substance worthy of the show !

Courts are not states — let me see men ! — behind

Where stands the People ? — Genius, lift the blind !"

XLII.

Slow fades the pageant, and the Phantom stage
As slowly fiird with squallid, ghastly forms ;

Here, over fireless hea^rths cowered shivering Age,
And blew with feeble breath dead embers ; — storms

Hung in the icy welkin ; and the bare

Earth lay forlorn in Winter's charnel air.



16 KING ARTHUR.

XLIII.

And Youth all labour-bow'd, with withering look,
Knelt by a rushing stream whose waves were gold,

And sought with lean strong hands to grasp the brook,
And clutch the glitter lapsing from the hold,

Till with mad laugh it ceased, and, tott'ring down

Fell, and on frowning skies, scowl'd back the frown.

XLIV.

No careless Childhood laughed disportingly,

But dwarf 'd, pale mandrakes with a century's gloom

On infant brows, beneath a Poison-tree

With skeleton fingers plied a ghastly loom,

Mocking in cynic jests life's gravest things.

They wove gay King-robes, muttering "What are Kings?"

XLV.

And thro' that dreary Hades to and fro,
Stalk'd all unheeded the Tartarean Guests ;

Grim discontent that loathes the Gods, and Woe
Clasping dead infants to her milkless breasts ;

And madding Hate, and Force with iron heel.

And voiceless Vengeance sharp'ning secret steel.

XLVI.

And, hand in hand, a Gorgon-visaged Pair,
Envy and Famine, halt with livid smile,

Listening the Demon-Orator Despair,

That, with a giozing and malignant guile,

Seems sent the gates of Paradise to ope,

And lures to Hell by simulating Ho]3e.



BOOK YII. 17

XLVII.

"Can such things be below and God above ?

Faltered the King; — Replied the Genius — "'Nay,
This is the state that Sages most approve ;

This is Man civilized ! — the perfect sway
Of Merchant Kings ; — the ripeness of the Art
Which cheajDens men — the Elysium of the Mart.

XLVIII.

" But what to thee if Pomp hath its extremes ?

Not thine the shadow — Go, enjoy the light !
Begirt by guards, shut danger from thy dreams ;

That serves thy grandeur which appals thy sight ;
From its own entrails if the worm supply
The silken purple — let it weave and die !"

XLIX.

"Demon — rather," cried the Poet-king,
" Let me all lonely on the heav'n-kist hill.

Rove with the hunter — be my drink the spring,
The root my banquet, and the night-wind shrill

Howl o'er my couch with the wild fox — than know

One pomp that mocks that Lazar-house of woe.

L.

" Thou saidst, ' Give dues to Csesar,'— Lord ! secure
The mightier tribute Csesars owe to men !

Thou who" hast oped God's kingdom to the Poor,
Reveal Humanity to Kings ! — again

Descend, Messiah ! — and to earth make kno^\T.i

How Christ had rei^n'd if on the Caesar's throne !"



18 KING ARTHUR.

LI.

So, with indignant tears in manly eyes
Turned the great Archetype of Chiyahy;

Lo the third arch ai d last ! — In moonlight rise
The Cjmrian rocks dark-shining from the sea,

And all those rocks, some patriot war, forgone,

Hallows with grassy mound and starlit stone.

LIT.

And wdiere the softest falls the loying light.
He sees himself stretch'd lifeless on the sward,

And by the corpse, with sacred robes of white
Leans on his iyory harp a lonely Bard ;

Yea, to the Dead the sole still ¥*^atchers giyen

Are the Fame-Singer and the Hosts of Heayen.

LIII.

But on the kingly front the kingly crown

Rests; — the pale right hand grasps the diamond glaiye;

The brow, on which ey'n strife hath left no frown,
Calm in the halo Glory giyes the Braye.

" Mortal, is this thy choice ?" the Genius cried.

"Here Death; there Pleasure; and there Pomp! — decide!"

LIV.

" Death," answer'd Arthur, " is nor good nor ill
Save in the ends for which men die — and Death

Can oft achieye what Life may not fulfil,

And kindle earth with Valour's dying breath ;

But oh, one answer to one terror deign.

My land — my people ! — is that death in yain ?"



BOOK VII. 19

LV.

Mute droop'd the Genius, but the unquiet form
Dreaming beside its brother king, arose,

Tho' dreaming still ;''' As leaps the sudden storm
On sands Arabian, as with spasms and throes

Bursts the Fire-mount by soft Parthenope,

Rose the veil'd Genius of the Thino:s to be 1



LVI.

Shook all the hollow caves : — wit]i tortur'd groan,
Shook to their roots in the far core of hell ;

Deep howFd to deep the monumental throne
Of the dead giant rock'd; — each coral cell

Flash'd quivering billowlike. Unshaken smiled.

From the calm ruby base the thorn-crown'd Child.

LVII.

The Genius rose ; and thro' the phantom arch
Glided the Shadows of His own pale dreams ;

The mortal saw the long procession march
Beside that ima2:e which his lemur seems :

An armed King — three lions on his shiekhj- —

First by the bard-watch'd Shadow paused and kneel' d.

* The Present shows that which appears submitted to our choice ; the Future
that which positively shall be!

■\ Richard Cocur de Lion ; — poetically speaking, the mythic Arthur was the fa-
ther of the age of adventure and knighthood — and the legends respecting him reigned
with full influence, in the period which Richard Coeur de Lion, here (generally and
without strict prosaic regard to chronology) represents; from the lay of the Trouba-
dour and the song of the Saracen — to the final concentration of chivalric romance in
the muse of Ariosto.



20 KING ARTHUR.

LVIIT.

Kneel'd, there, his tram — upon each mailed breast
A red coss stamp'd ; and deep as from a sea

With all its waves — full voices murmur d. — " Rest
Ever unhuried, Sire of chivalry !

Ever by Minstrel watch'd, and Knight ador'd.

King of the halo-brow, and diamond sword !"

LIX.

Then, as from all the courts of all the earth.

The reverent pilgrims, countless, clustering came ;

They whom the seas of fabled Sirens girth,
Or Baltic freezing in the Boreal flame ;

Or they, who watch the Star of Bethlem quiver

By Carmel's Olive mount, and Judah's river.

LX.

From violet Provence comes the Troubadour ;

Ferrara sends her clarion-sounding son ;
Comes from Iberian halls the turban'd Moor

With cymbals chiming to the clarion ;
And, with large stride, amid the gaudier throng,
Stalks the vast Scald of Scandinavian song.

Lxr.
Pass'd he who bore the lions and the cross,

And all that gorgeous pageant left the space
Void as a heart that mourns the golden loss

Of young illusions beautiful. A Race
Sedate, supplants upon the changeful stage,
Light's early Sires, — the Song- World's hero-age.



BOOK yiL 21

Lxrr.

Slow come the Shapes from out the dim Obscure.

A noon-like quiet circles swarming bays,
Seas gleam with sails, and wall-less towns secure,

Rise from the donjon sites of antique days ;
Lo, the calm Sovereign of that sober reign !
Unarm'd — with burghers in his pompless train.



Lxiir.

And by the corpse of Arthur kneels that king,
And murmurs, " Father of the Tudor,* hail !

To thee nor bays, nor myrtle wreath I bring ;
But in thy Son, the Dragon-born prevail.

And in my rule Right first deposes Wrong ;

And first the Weak undaunted face the Strong."



LXIV.

He pass'd — Another, with a Nero's frown
Shading the quick light of impatient eyes ;

Strides on — and casts his sceptre, clattering, down.
And from the sceptre rushingly arise

Fierce sparks ; along the heath they hissing run.

And the dull earth glows lurid as the sun.



* It is needless to say that in Henry VII. the direct line of the British kings,
through their most renowned heroes, is restored to the throne of England. It is
here symbolically intimated, that the date in which the Fathtr-race of the Land
thus regains the Sovereign rights, is also (whatever the mere personal faults of the
Tudor kings) the date destined for the first recognition of rights more important ; —
tlie dawn of a new era for the liberties of men.



22 KING ARTHUR.

LXV.

And there is heard afar the hollow crash

Of ruin ; — wind-borne, on the flames are driven :

But where, round tailing shrines, the}^ coil and Hash,
A seraph's hand extends a scroll from heaven,

And the rude shape cries loud, " Behold, ye blind,

I who have trampled Men^ have freed the Mind !"

Lxvr.

So laughing grim, pass'd the Destroyer on ;

And, after two pale shadows, to the sound
Of lutes more musical than Helicon,

A manlike woman march'd : — The graves around
Yawn'd, and the ghosts of Knighthood, more serene
In death, — arose^ and smiled upon the Queen.''"

LXVII.

With her, (at either hand) two starry forms
Glide — th:ai herself more royal — and the glow

Of their own lustre, each pale phantom warms
Into the lovely life the angels know.

And as they pass, each Fairy leaves its cell,

And Gloriana calls on Ariel !

LXVIII.

Yet she, unconscious as the crescent queen

Of orbs whose brightness makes her image bright,

Ilaught and imperious, thro' the borrowed sheen,
Claims to herself the sovereignty of light ;

And is herself so stately to survey.

That orbs which lend, but seem to steal the ray.

• The reader will be at no loss to recognise the eflects of the Heroagc, and that



BOOK YII. ' 23



LXIX.

Elf-land divine, and Chivalry sublime,

Seem there to hold their last high jubilee —

One glorious Sahhat of enchanted Time,

Ere the dull spell seals the sweet glamourj.

And all those wonder-shapes in subject ring

Kneel where the Bard still sits beside the King.

LXX.

Slow falls a mist, far booms a labouring wind,
As into night reluctant fades the Dream ;

And lo, the smouldering embers left behind

From the old sceptre-flame, wdth blood-red beam,

Kindle afresh, and the thick smoke-reeks go

Heavily up from marching fires below.

LXXI.

Hark ! thro' sulphureous cloud the jarring bray
Of trumpet-clangours — the strong shock of steel ;

And fitful flashes light the fierce array
Of faces gloomy with the calm of zeal.

Or knightlier forms, on wheeling chargers borne )

Gay in despair, and meeting zeal with scorn.

LXXII.

Forth from the throng came a majestic Woe,

That wore the shape of man — "And I" — It said,

" I am thy Son ; and if the Fates bestow
Blood on my soul and ashes on my head ;

Time's is the guilt, tho' mine the misery —

This teach me. Father — to forgive and die !"

spirit of Romance embodied by the legendary Arthur, upon whatever was most
gallant and most poetic in the reign of Elizabeth.



24 KING ARTHUR.

LXXIII.

But here stern voices clrown'd the mournful word,
Crying — " Men's freedom is the heritage

Left by the Hero of the Diamond Sword,"

And others answered — " Nay, the knightly age

Leaves as its heirloom, knighthood, and that high

Life in sublimer life calFd loyalty."*

LXXIV.

Then, thro' the hurtling clamour came a fair
Shape like a s worded seraph — sweet and grave ;

And when the war heaved distant down the air
And died as dies a whirlwind on the wave,

By the two forms upon the storry hill,

Stood the Arch Beautiful, auaust and still.

LXXV.

And thus it spoke — " I too will hail thee, ^ Sire,'
Type of the Hero-age ! — thy sons are not

On the earth's thrones. They who, with stately lyre.
Make kingly thoughts immortal, and the lot

Of the hard life divine with visitings

Of the far angels — are thy race of Kings.

• The Stuarts, like the Tudors, were descended from the Welch kings; but the
latent meaning of the text is, that whatever most redeemed the faults on either side
in the great Civil Wars, and animated, on the one, such souls as Digby and Falk-
land, on the other, such as Hampden and Vane, may be traced to those ennobling
sentiments which are engendered by the early romance and poetry of a nation. It
is only from the traditions of a Hero-age that true heroism enters into the struggles
for even practical ends, and gives the sentiment of grandeur, whether to freedom or
loyalty. The hardest man who never read a poem, nor listened to a legend, can-
not say what he would have been if the poet had never coloured, and the legend
never exalted, that Prose of Life to which his scope is confined. This is designed
to be conveyed in words ascribed below to Milton, who himself united all the ro-
mance of the Cavalier with all the zeal of the Kepublican.



BOOK VII. 25

LXXVI.

"All that ennobles strife in either cause,

And, rendering service stately, freedom wise.

Knits to the throne of God our human laws —
Doth heir earth's humblest son with royalties

Born from the Hero of the Diamond Sword,

"VYatcli'd by the Bard, and by the Brave adored."

LXXVII.

Then the Bard, seated by the hallo'd dead.

Lifts his sad eyes — and mumurs, " Sing of Him !"

Doubtful the stranger bows his lofty head.
When down descend his kindred Seraphim ;

Borne on their wings he soars from human sight,

And Heaven regains the Habitant of Light.

LXXVIII.

Again, and once again — from many a pale

And swift succeeding, dim-distinguished, crowd,

Swells slow the pausing pageant. Mount and vale
Mingle in gentle daylight, wdth one cloud

On the far welkin, which the iris hues

Steals from its gloom with rays that interfuse.

LXXIX.

Mild, like all strength, sits Crowned Liberty,
Wearing the aspect of a youthful Queen :

And far outstretch'd along the unmeasured sea
Rests the vast shadow of her throne ; serene

From the dumb icebergs to the fiery zone.

Rests the vast shadow of that guardian throne.



26 KING ARTHUR.

LXXX.

And round lier group the Cjmrian's changeless race
Blent with the Saxon, brother-like; and both

Saxon and Cymrian from that sovereign trace

Their hero line ; — sweet flower of age-long growth ;

The single blossom on the twofold stem ; —

Arthur's ^vhite plume crests Cerdic's diadem.

LXXXI.

Yet the same harp that Taliessin strung

Delights the sons whose sires the chords delighted ;

Still the old music of the mountain tongue
Tells of a race not conquered but united ;

That, losing nought, wins all the Saxon won,

And shares the realm ^ where never sets the sun.'

LXXXII.

Afar is heard the Ml of headlong thrones,

But from that throne as calm the shadow falls ;

And where Oppression threats and Sorrow groans
Justice sits listening in her gateless halls,

And ev'n, if powerless, still intent, to cure.

Whispers to Truth, " Truths conquer that endure."

LXXXIII.

Yet still on that horizon hangs the cloud.

And the cloud chains the Cymrian's anxious eye ;

" Alas," he murmured, " that one mist should shroud !"
Perchance from sorrow, that benignant sky !"

But while lie sigh'd the Vision vanished,

And left once more the lone Bard hy the dead.



BOOK VII. 27

LXXXIV.

"Beliold tlie close of thirteen hundred years;

Lo ! Cymri's Daughter on the Saxon's throne !
Free as their air thy Gj^mrian mountaineers,

And in the heavens one rainbow cloud alone,
Which shall not pass, until, the cycle o'er,
The soul of Arthur comes to earth once more.

LXXXV.

" Dost thou choose Death ?" the giant Dreamer said.

" Ay, for in death I seize the life of fame.
And link the eternal millions with the dead,"

Replied the King — and to the sw^ord he came
Large-striding ; — grasp'd the hilt ; — f he charmed brand
Clove to the rock, and stirr'd not to his hand.

LXXXVI.

The Dreaming Genius has his throne resum'd ;

Sit the Great Three with Silence for their reign,
Awful as earliest Theban kings entomb'd.

Or idols granite-hewn in Indian fane ;
When lo, the dove flew forth, and circling round,
Dropp'd on the thorn-wreath which the Statue crown'd.

Lxxxvir.
Rose then the Vulture with its carnage-shriek.

Up coil'd the darting Asps ; the bird above ;
Below the reptiles ; — poison-fang and beak.

Nearer and nearer gathered round the dove ;
When with strange life the marble Image stirr'd.
And sudden pause the Asps — and rests the Bird.



28 KING ARTHUR.

LXXXVIII.

" Mortal," the Ima,ge murmured, " I am Pie,

Whose voice alone the 'enchanted sword unsheathes,

Mightier than yonder Shapes — eternally

Throned upon light, tho' crown'd with thorny wreaths ;

Changeless amid the Halls of Time ; — my name

In heaven is Youth, and on the earth is Fame.

LXXXIX.

" All altars need their sacrifice ; and mine

Asks every bloom in which thy heart delighted.

Thorns are my garlands — wouldst thou serve the shrine,
Drear is the faith to which thy vows are plighted.

The Asp shall twine, — the Vulture watch the prey,

And Horror rend thee, let but Hope give way.

xc.

'^ Wilt thou the falchion with the thorns it brino's ?"
" Yea — for the thorn- wreath hath not dimm'd thy
smile."

" Lo, thy first offering to the Vulture's wings.

And the Asp's fangs !" — the cold lips answered, while

Nearer, and nearer the devourers came,

Where the dove resting hid the thorns of Fame.

xci.
And all the memories of that faithful guide,

The sweet companion of unfriended ways,
When danger threatened, ever at his side,

And ever in the grief of later days.
Soothing his heart with its mj^sterious love,
Till Ogle's soul seem'd hovering in the dove,-



<)



BOOK yii. 29

XCII.

All cried aloud in Arthur, and he sjDrang

And sudden from the slaughter snatch'd the prey,

" What !" said the Image, " can a moment's pang
To the poor worthless favourite of a day

Appal the soul that yearns for ends sublime.

And sighs for empire o'er the worlds of Time ?

XCIII.

" Wilt thou resign the guerdon of the sword ?

Wilt thou forego the freedom of thy land ?
Not one slight offering will thy heart accord ?

The hero's prize is for the martyr's hand."
Safe on his breast the King replaced the guide,
Raised his majestic front, and thus replied :

xciv.

'• For Fame and Cymri, what is mine I give.

Life ! — and brave death prefer to ease and power -,

But not for Fame or Cymri would I live

Soil'd by the stain of one dishonoured hour;

x\nd man's great cause was ne'er triumphant made,

By man's worst meanness — Trust for gain betray'd.

xcv.

" Let then the rock the sword for ever sheathe,
All blades are charmed in the Patriot's grasp !"

Lie spoke, and lo ! the Statue's thorny wreath
Bloomed into roses — and each baffled asp

Fell down and died of its own poison sting

Back to the crag dull-sail'd the death-bird's wing.

VOL. II. 3



30 KING ARTHUR.

XCVI.

And from the Statue's smile, as when the morn
Unlocks the Eastern gates of Paradise,

Ineffable joy in light and beauty borne,

Flowed ; and the azure of the distant skies

Stole thro' the crimson hues the ruby gave,

And slept, like Plappiness, on Glory's wave.

XCVII.

" Go," said the Image, " thou hast won the Sword ;

He who thus values Honour more than Fame
Makes Fame itself his Servant, not his lord ;

And the man's heart achieves the hero's claim.
But by Ambition is Ambition tried.
None gain the guerdon who betray the guide !"

- XCVTII.

Wondering the Monarch heard, and hearing, laid
On the bright hilt-gem, the obedient hand ;

Swift at the touch, leapt forth the diamond blade.
And each long vista lightened with the brand ;

The speaking marble bowed its reverent head.

Rose the three Kings — the Dreamer and the Dead ;

xcix.
Voices far off, as in the heart of heaven,

Hymn'd '^Hail, Fame-Conqueror in the Halls of Time;"
Deep as to hell the flaming vaults were riven ;

High as to angels, space on space sublime
Opened, and flash'd upon the mortal's eye
The Morning Land of Immortality.



BOOK VII. 31

c.

Bow'd down before the intolerable light,

Sank on his knees the King ; and humbly veil'd

The home of Seraphs from the human sight ;
Then the freed Soul forsook him, as it hail'd

Thro' Flesh, its prison-house, — the spirit-choir ;

And fled as flies the music from the lyre.

CI.

And all was blank, and meaningless, and void ;

For the dull form, abandoned thus below.
Scarcely it felt the closing waves that buoy'd

Its limbs, light-drifting down the gentle flow —
And when the conscious life returned again,


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Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 14 of 25)